Refrigerating Cookie Dough
Can I make and refrigerate cookie dough and then bake the cookies a few at a time over several days?
The amount of time you can refrigerate cookie dough before baking depends on the presence and type of leavener in the dough. To sort through holding times for doughs with different (or no) leaveners, we made four batches of sugar cookies: one with baking powder, one with baking soda, one with both, and the last (an icebox cookie) with neither. We baked six cookies from each batch every day for a week. We found that the dough with baking soda held well for two days, but was a little flatter on the third. Cookies with both baking powder and soda began to lose lift after four days. Baking powder–leavened cookie dough maintained good lift all week. The unleavened cookies held well all week.
The cookies with baking soda were the losers in the holding test because soda is a single-acting leavener, meaning that it begins to make lift-giving air bubbles as soon as it gets wet and comes in contact with an acid. Once started, this action continues until all the leavening power is spent—so there’s a time limit. Baking powder is double acting, so it releases gas twice: once when it gets wet, and again when it heats up. So even if the first batch of air bubbles is spent, the second action will allow cookies to rise in the oven.
THE BOTTOM LINE Cookie dough made with baking soda is best used within two days. Recipes with both powder and soda can be made four days ahead. Recipes with baking powder or no leavener can be made up to seven days ahead.